Entirely Unsurprising

Hey, guess what? Pregnant women are doing it wrong again! I’ve transcribed the interview between John Humphrys and Mike Kelly that forms part of this article, because I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I would say “enjoy”, but, well… you probably won’t.

JH: Eating for two is dangerous. Women have been for generations – forever perhaps – that that’s what they should do when they’re pregnant, but National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says they shouldn’t. Professor Mike Kelly is the institute’s public heath director, good morning to you. Um, why not?

MK: Because if they do, they’re likely to put on more weight than they need to and um produce an obese, er, an obese pregnancy, and that’s very bad for them and very bad for their baby.

JH: But haven’t you got to eat a bit more if there’s another little person inside you munching away as well?

MK: In the third trimester, in the last three months of pregnancy, the woman should be eating about 200 calories a day extra, that amounts to about two pieces of toast and a milky drink, that’s all.

JH: I see. I have this image of pregnant women, who goodness knows have enough problems – some of them anyway, not all of course – but thinking, the one thing I *can* do is a little bit of comfort eating – is it really going to hurt them that much?

MK: Yes it is, the – um. Well, first off, around about 40% of women of childbearing age are already overweight or obese and presenting at our –

JH: [interrupting] – Are they 40% of –
MK: – That’s –
JH: [incredulously] – of women of childbearing age are *obese*?

MK: Overweight and obese.

JH: [skeptically] Mmm, yeah, there is a big difference, isn’t there.

MK: Overweight is a body mass index over 25, and obese over 30.

JH: But I mean, can we put it into very simple terms – if you look at somebody who is, as you say, overweight, do you say “oh my word, that’s a fat person”?

MK: Not necessarily.

JH: Right. So therefore aren’t we getting this a bit out of proportion?

MK: No, not at all. Because it’s um, a direct, um, line, if you like, a ratio, as with each pound that’s put on, the risks increase.

JH: [surprised] Really?

MK: Yes, indeed. And the risks that we need to get people to understand range from miscarriage, subsequently, pre-eclampsia, thromboembolism, gestational diabetes – and that’s very important because the diabetes often continues post-pregnancy, so the woman is becoming diabetic for life potentially. During delivery more pain relief is required, slower wound healing, potential miscarriage, foetal death. The risks are enormous. This is not a minor minor problem, this is a major difficulty. It also of course adds cost because if a woman has to have a caesarian as a consequence of having a larger baby, that’s an additional around about £2000 per delivery. [Emphasis mine, because… wow.]

JH: But I come back to this difference between being obese and overweight. I mean, *clearly*, if somebody is grotesquely overweight, then there are going to be – we can all see that, that’s blindingly obvious, but aren’t we in danger of *scaring* women into thinking “oh my god, I can’t have that extra piece of toast or bar of chocolate or something because I’m gonna put my baby or me at risk”?

MK: What we should be doing is explaining that the amount of extra calories that are required, they’re very small amount and they’re only in the last three months of pregnancy, and that’s why this business of eating for two has to be knocked on the head. What we need to do is make clear that a healthy diet – this is the diet that you or I needs to stay in reasonable shape based on starchy foods, avoiding sugary drinks, drinking plenty of water, avoiding fatty food, all that sort of thing, that’s a healthy diet and that’s what a pregnant woman should eat, that’s what a woman before she gets pregnant should eat and that’s what she should eat afterwards. It’s the standard advice on diet and nutrition that we’ve been giving for forty or thir- forty years or so. Nothing in that regard has changed. The myth about eating for two is one that needs to be knocked on the head, as is the idea that they need to do the same when they’re breasfeeding – they *don’t* – a small amount of extra calories during breastfeeding, the natural bodily processes will take care of it. We need to alert health professionals as much as anybody that this is a significant problem.

JH: Professor Kelly, thank you very much indeed.

I’m a skeptical soul, but I’m also running a temperature, so I’m not about to do any sums for you. Not even to prove how awesome I am. I have, however, found the guidance from NICE, which contained the statistics that Mike Kelly was quoting:

“At the start of pregnancy, 15.6% of women in England are obese (Heslehurst et al. 2010).”

“About half of women of childbearing age are either overweight (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m²) or obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m²) (The NHS Information Centre 2008).”

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that women who are “obese” have a higher risk of having a caesarian delivery in part because their doctors think they ought to have one because they’re “obese”. Not because they actually needed one.

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You Know Your Homework’s Going Badly When…

… you plug in numbers and get back “1=0”.

This is what is known in the trade as Not Helpful, or, if you’re feeling tired, Fuck It, I Will Just Have To Hand In A Paradox.

It’s 50-50 at the moment which definition I choose, but either way, I suspect my tutor will be a bit surprised by my work.


Another Nail In The Coffin

Because I am a wind-up merchant, occaisionally I have conversations with J that go something like this:

Me: Hey, I had a thought.

J: Oh?

Me: Well, you don’t want to divorce me, right?

J: Um, no…

Me: Well, I’ve worked out a way to make sure that your odds of divorcing me are zero.

J: How?

Me: Don’t marry me. As soon as you do, you’ve got a 45% chance of divorcing me by the time we’re 50.*

J: Bloody statisticians.


*This argument, admitedly, would work better if J didn’t like a pointless bet every once in a while.

On an entirely different note, today I roasted a whole chicken all by myself, and it is definitely cooked properly and smells yummy. (I got a bit enthusiastic with the lemon.) I am very proud though, as I’ve never done it before. I’m having some for dinner tonight and the remains will no doubt haunt the rest of my week as I try to work out how many reincarnations of the same meat you can actually eat.


Phrases That Have Been Getting On My Nerves

Disclaimer: my lecturers are, on the whole, fantastic. There are, however, a couple of things they say, independently of each other, but fairly regularly, that drive me round the fucking bend.


The minor gripe first:

*long and involved explanation of a concept*  “… and so, obviously…”

Well. If it were obvious, remind me why I come to your lectures?

I know that there are certain things that we’re meant to be able to get by now – so if you rearrange an equation from “x + 2 = 3” to “x=1” without doing the middle bit of “x = 3 – 2”, fair enough. We’ve had years of practice at that. And also, if we can’t count to 3, we shouldn’t be in the lecture. But that’s never what you do, is it?

It’s always something incomprehensible, like “…we have a relationship between sigma squared and S squared and so obviously, the student t-distribution has n-1 degrees of freedom attatched to it in this case…”

That’s many things, but one thing it certainly isn’t obvious. So there I am, scrabbling away like a flea-infested monkey at my notes, which have got increasingly scrawled and muddled as you correct yourself and go back and jump forward and… really, what?!

And there’s no point asking whether we have any questions, either. Do you know what I think when you say things like that? I think you are in league with dentists, that’s what I think.





Anyway, but all of that just detracts from the main gripe I have for this evening, which is what happens when you forget your words.

When pointing to esoteric mathematical symbols: “… this guy…” or “… these guys…”


It burns, I tell you, it burns! They’re not even objects, for fuck’s sake – they’re symbols. Patterns on a projector (or a blackboard, if the lecturer is old-school!). English has gender neutral pronouns. Please use them properly.  It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a one-off, but it’s not. It’s all the time.

“This guy”. *points at symbol*

“This guy”. *points at symbol*.

“This guy”. *points at symbol*.

You see how it starts to get annoying?

You know, I sit in those lectures, and I reckon half, or maybe just over half of the students are female. Sometimes, even the lecturer is female. We’ve had a ratio of 2:4  female:male lecturers in both semesters this year. Four different women, eight different men. So I’m not badly represented. And yet… the lecturers saying “this guy” when they really mean “mu” or “X squared” or “theta” or “the gravitational force acting on an object”… that makes me feel invisible. It makes me feel like they’re talking to the men in the room, and only the men in the room. As though the whole of mathematics is an inherently masculine domain. Which is ironic, really, considering that on the prospectus, they called maths “the Queen of Sciences”.

It is at this point that I realise I have wasted a lot of time by playing Bill Bailey clips, in the hopes of finding something even slightly appropriate to put here that would make me feel less grumpy. Sadly, I can procrastinate no longer. Coursework beckons.


Ever Get A Feeling Of Deja-Vu?

Recently, in Rachland:


J: Well, to be honest, I’m still a bit disappointed that you’re not taking my name.

Me: Huh. To be honest, I’m still very disappointed that you’re not taking mine.


It is for reasons like this that I suspect we will just have to live in sin. Imagine trying to plan a wedding with those kinds of conversational snippets. Perhaps I shall have a housewarming instead. God knows there’s more to celebrate about owning your own home than there is to celebrate about rampant displays of heteronormativity. And besides, at the moment at least, home repossesion is less likely than divorce. Hurrah!


(One article in the Guardian from February says that “1 in 290 borrowers had their home repossessed in the fourth quarter of last year”, and another, from last year, says that “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 45% of marriages will end in divorce before a couple’s 50th anniversary if 2005 rates continue”.)


It’s The Thought That Counts

One of the downsides about being engaged to a man who sells jewellery is that sometimes he forgets how much I’m not interested in it. This is not to say that I don’t like colourful or twinkly things – that would be silly! – just that I don’t really care what it’s made from, as long as it doesn’t irritate my skin. Bear in mind, my skin can be irritated by aqueous cream and E45, two products specifically designed for sensitive skin. So the irritation thing is a reasonable concern. The relative shininess of platinum as compared to silver really isn’t.

Now, J and I both wear engagement rings. Which is to say, anybody who sees his left hand assumes that he’s already married, because in the eyes of the patriarchy, it is always and only the woman who should carry the symbol of ownership – formerly wedding rings, and now, since mens’ wedding rings have become common, engagement rings.

The other day, wedding rings came up in conversation. Since one of the things that irritates J is me quoting his own arguments at him verbatim, I try to make a point of doing so every so often, and this provided me with the perfect opportunity:

J: Lots of the men I speak to at work get that look. The one that says, “I’m paying silly money for my girlfriend’s ring, and she’s not paying for anything for me”. And then I speak to them about watches. And their faces light up.

Me: The joys of equality – now everybody has to give you their money!

J: Well… I was thinking… Everybody thinks that this [points at his ring] is a wedding band, and I’d only have to move it to my right hand. So maybe you just shouldn’t buy me a wedding band.

Me: Hmm. Well, I was thinking, everybody thinks that this [points at my ring] is a wedding ring, and I’d only have to move it to my right hand. So maybe you just shouldn’t buy me a wedding ring either.

J: *looks disappointed*

Me: *light dawns* Oh! You wanted a new watch, didn’t you?! You thought that you could buy me another ring I don’t need and I could buy you another watch that you don’t need!

J: *looks shifty*

Me: How much?

J:…. £1,000… ish…

Me: *laughs hysterically*

J: No wedding rings, then?


I would like to point out here that my life is made considerably more entertaining by J’s presence. In a good way. And I’m very relieved, to be honest, that we won’t be thinking about any more pointless jewellery. Being many things, but mainly an impoverished maths student, I can’t help but note that the money that would have bought the watch J wanted would have paid for 40 week’s worth of food for me – an academic year’s worth, in other words. That kind of thing makes me want to gibber in a corner.

(J now has his own blog, which he has promised will not make him sound like a whinging emo git. I checked this. He told me it was “delicately put”.)


I Have An Answer!

Not a very good one, admittedly, but I do at least have one.

So, you know how there’s that bingo-worthy saying, “I don’t see colour”?

And you know how there’s a trend for advertising towards men to use all of the shades of the black/grey/white/silver spectrum?

Maybe it’s true!

Maybe, the reason that advertisers don’t use actual colours to advertise to men is because they are advertising primarily towards white men who are likely to say “I don’t see colour“! The advertisers are therefore targeting a more specific demographic than it would first appear: the demographic of racist, mindless, male douchebags!

For example, Lynx. They have a white man surrounded by white women to sum up the brand on their website. I think my assumptions are reasonable.

I am a genius.


In other news, because I am a maths geek, it turns out that any numeric palindrome of the form ABBA – like 1331 –  is divisible by 11. This pleases me, because it was worth 4 marks in my exam. And also because it makes 11 a more useful number.